Israel and Egypt Have a Common Interest in Stopping ISIS, but They Must Proceed With Caution

Israel should not exploit the regional chaos in order to exacerbate the crisis with Hamas, even if sources within Hamas’ military wing really are cooperating with ISIS.

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Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt July 1, 2015.
Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt July 1, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Despite the Egyptian army’s assertion that the situation in northern Sinai “is 100 percent under control,” Wednesday’s deadly series of terror attacks – for which the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) took responsibility – is liable to develop into a multifront war in Egypt. The simultaneous attacks on several targets was reminiscent of the way ISIS is fighting in Syria and Iraq. The fear, in both Egypt and Israel, is that Islamic State fighters will try to take over El Arish or the surrounding area, and perhaps even to enter the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt have a common interest in stopping ISIS. Therefore, it can be assumed that Israel will assist the Egyptians with their ongoing military struggle, and that Egypt will likely allow Israeli security forces to operate in its territory without considering it a blow to its sovereignty.

However, it is the residents of Gaza who are liable to be trapped between a rock and a hard place, and pay the price. In a video published by ISIS in Syria earlier this week, the organization threatened to destroy the Hamas government and impose a religious regime in Gaza, as it did previously in cities in Syria and Iraq. On the other hand, it was reported Thursday that security sources in Israel are claiming that members of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza are maintaining close ties with activists from Wilayat Sinai (the extremist Islamic organization that claimed responsibility for the attacks, and identified with ISIS).

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who coined the expression “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas” – this is liable to be a good time to settle accounts. Labeling Hamas as being no different in essence from Islamic State, and even cooperating with it, is meant to provide a clear response to the United Nations report on the brutal behavior of the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Protective Edge last summer, and even to present Israel as a peace-loving country fighting against the “axis of evil.”

But Netanyahu should exercise restraint and not be tempted to believe the strident words he himself stated at the UN General Assembly last September. We should not exploit the regional chaos in order to exacerbate the crisis with Hamas, even if sources within Hamas’ military wing really are cooperating with ISIS. The residents of Gaza, who are being crushed beneath the boots of all the parties involved, paid a high-enough price last summer. Israel’s interest is the exact opposite: To strive for a nonaggression agreement and, in particular, to improve Gazans’ quality of life.

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